The British pop star James Blunt was in Bogotá as part of his World Tour. Azzam Alkadhi followed him around for the night (with his permission)
Right, so maybe that headline was deliberately misleading. Sorry if you were hoping for a tabloid-esque kiss-and-tell, but now that I’ve got your attention, let me share with you the details of my entirely un-romantic night with James Blunt.
Blunt is in Bogotá for the penultimate concert of his mammoth 18-month “Moon Landing World Tour”, which started in China back in 2013.
James has the fortune of playing in front of an incredibly enthusiastic crowd at Bogotá’s Royal Center. Around 2,500 people are in the audience but, as is so often the case here in Colombia, the noise levels suggest more.
Just a little kick in the crowd’s direction and they go crazy, and Blunt knows just how to milk it. A few words in Spanish, a salute to the chicas and repeated mentions of Bogotá are just a few of the techniques he deploys.
At one point he even makes the specious claim that his previous three world tours were just a practice for the fourth one and his first visit to Colombia. The crowd laps it up. Chuck in the moment when he is handed a sombrero vueltiao and ending the show draped in a Colombian flag, and you’ve got yourself an artist who really knows how to work the audience.
After the show, James and the band wax lyrical about the Colombian crowd, explaining that it was by far one of the best shows of the tour. James tells me: “The crowd was amazing. It makes it so much more enjoyable for us on stage when the audience is so passionate.”
Now, I’m a cynic at the best of times, so I’m not going to just blindly believe what could have been nothing more than an attempt to get a couple of quotes into a newspaper. But as the night wears on, polite comments give way to drunken truth-telling, and it becomes clear that James and the band are genuinely taken by Colombia, at least in comparison to some of the other countries they have visited (in the interests of averting a potential diplomatic crisis, I shall name no names).
Guitarist Ben Castle, who has been playing with Blunt for the last 12 years, adds to the praise of the crowd: “‘Goodbye My Lover’ is a solo song, with just James and a piano, but you could still see his energy and the crowd responded incredibly.”
Initial impressions of Colombia were also positive. Bogotá is one of the only cities where they have landed and played the same day, so there is little time for sightseeing, but the group is nonetheless impressed.
Back at James’ hotel, Ben takes time out to praise the city’s infrastructure. (Although landing in a brand new airport and going down the new and improved Avenida El Dorado might have given him something of a skewed impression of the city).
Blunt’s wife Sofia, who, by virtue of being the only Spanish speaker in the group (although James might disagree), is also the unofficial tour translator, tells me: “People here smile, and it’s normal. They come out of an office building or a shop smiling. Just because. That doesn’t happen in England.”
As for Blunt’s bass player, John Garrison, he has a question for me later that night: “Colombia seems like an amazing country, but I get the idea you have to be ever so slightly mental as a foreigner living here, right?” No comment.
Speaking of mental, Blunt surprises me by putting on a show that oozes more energy than you might expect from one of his concerts. With rocky riffs and the man himself bounding around the stage at times like a frontman extraordinaire, there is a sense that he wants to end the tour on a high. Even from behind the piano he exudes stage presence, at one point kicking his chair over and standing to play, to massive cheers from the enamoured crowd.
Throughout the gig, Blunt demonstrates a penchant for interacting with the audience and an incredible talent for getting them cheering. It all culminates in the slightly surreal moment when he takes to crowdsurfing. Not what you might expect from one of his gigs, but then again this show is entirely surprising.
A smooth talker on stage, he engages the crowd and spends long periods monologuing. He explains: “I like to spend time talking to the audience. It breaks up the show and makes it a bit different.”
This impulse of his leads to a rather strange five-minute rant about how he hates being short and therefore all tall people. Jokey short-man complex, perhaps, but the band and crew are also taken aback, as Sofia later tells me: “Even we were surprised, it went on longer than we’d expected.”
At times I wonder if the crowd understands him, especially as his speech speeds up the more animated he gets. He tells me: “Here I think they understand me, probably my English better than my Spanish, but some places you go you know they are just laughing because the one or two people who do understand are laughing.”
There are moments when his Ibiza-learnt Spanish comes out, usually to rapturous cries from the crowd. Later, he explains to my Colombian friends that “en un restaurante, hablo perfecto el español.” Dinner, anyone?
But the night’s success – both during and after the concert – isn’t all down to Blunt. The band plays with an impressive amount of chemistry, especially considering drummer Morten Hellborn only had one and a half hours’ practice with the group when he joined the tour for the Latin American leg. Hellborn, who toured with Aqua in 2012, replaced Simon Lea, after he left to join Robbie Williams on tour.
Smoking a cigarette by the hotel swimming pool, too many drinks later, I find myself caught in the middle of a lovers’ tiff, when I ask Ben about his plans after the tour. He tells me that he will be touring with another artist, at which point James’ face transforms into that of a cuckolded lover, his smile disappearing and his eyes filling with jealousy.
“Who is this other man?”
“Actually it’s a woman. And she’s older.” Poor, poor James.
The night is filled with similar lighthearted moments amongst a relaxed group of friends, all refreshingly genuine, fun and welcoming. Without wanting to sound like his publicist, I now find the criticism leveled at Blunt thoroughly undeserved.
In between talk of Jamiroquai and holidays with Elton John, Blunt and his band simultaneously takes the piss out of me and ask questions with genuine interest. Disinterested and aloof superstars they are not.
I’m not going to lie to you guys, I never used to listen to much Blunty – not so much because of taste, but mainly because, like many men, I would have felt slightly dirty or confused downloading any of his tunes, or even having them on my YouTube history. In the run up to the show, however, I spent a week or so listening to James Blunt and nothing else (research purposes, I assure you), and I’m not ashamed to say I’ve turned into a bit of a fan (OK, maybe I’m a little ashamed).
Yes, lots of his songs are cheesy and pop-y, but he is a pop star, what do you expect? Many of his lyrics are deep, clever and well-written (some, however, are just cursi) and I was blown away by how incredible his voice still sounds at the tender age of older-than-I’m-allowed-to-say (Google it).
Blunt now plans to take the summer off, no doubt looking to unwind back home after 18 months on the road. “I absolutely love Ibiza, and I’m looking forward to going back,” he tells me. “It’s such a beautiful island and so much fun!”
Towards the end of the evening, Blunt tells me that he will “definitely be back in Bogotá.” He also says that he’d like to be one of the few artists who graces Medellin as well as the capital, keen as he is to break down barriers.
James, you’re always welcome in Colombia, as long as you let me follow you around again. After all, apart from the moment when I called you a twat in front of everyone, I’d say we were friends. Right? James? … James?